Yale’s Air Force ROTC cadets welcomed a Brittany Spaniel puppy named Nate — after Nathan Hale, a spy for the Continental Army during the American Revolution who graduated from Yale College in 1773 — to their detachment at the beginning of the semester. As the first dog to participate in Air Force Puppies, Inc., a new campus organization, Nate will be trained as a therapy dog by Air Force ROTC cadets and then introduced into the broader community to interact with local veterans.
Air Force Puppies, Inc. is a privately funded, independent nonprofit registered in Connecticut. Started this year by Capt. John Swisher ’11, the program will offer cadets additional leadership opportunities while engaging with veterans in the community, all through therapy dog Nate.
“In addition to the primary goal of providing pet therapy to veterans and students, this organization also affords yet another leadership and training opportunity for our AFROTC cadets,” said Swisher, the program’s founder and executive director. “Furthermore, it’s a great way to build a bridge between military service members and the Yale community.”
Swisher, who adopted Nate from a rescue home, explained that Nate must go through a three-phase training program in order to become certified as a therapy dog. He added that the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog is that the latter is a legal distinction which requires that the dog be trained and certified to help individuals with a specific condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or blindness. Nate — who owns a colorful collection of argyle sweaters — will be trained as a therapy dog, which can help a wider variety of veterans.
Since his arrival, Nate has been undergoing basic puppy training and attending a weekly therapy training program in New York. Starting next month, cadets can sign up and train him as part of the first phase of the program, which is intensive obedience training. Subsequent phases will take place over the next several months, and Swisher hopes that Nate will be able to start visiting veterans before the end of the academic year.
“It’s really exciting and fun to be able to work with Nate because he’s adorable,” cadet Alexander Tymchenko ’17 said. “And it will be great to use him as a starting point to have conversations with these veterans at the Veterans Affairs hospital [in West Haven], nursing homes or anywhere. Pretty much every cadet wants to sign up to train him.”
Swisher said while the program currently operates only at Yale, it is a fully independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit thanks to the pro bono work of New York City law firms White & Case and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. He added he hopes to establish and document best practices for how to train therapy dogs to share with other detachments across the country, so that other universities can establish their own Air Force Puppies chapters.
According to Tymchenko, the 50 cadets in his detachment come from a total of seven schools in the area, so in a way the program already exists at multiple universities. However, since the detachment is based at Yale, all of Nate’s training will be on campus.
“Having Nate there is a nice break from classes and everyday life,” cadet Noah Cho ’18 said. “It’s cool that we get to do something good for the world once Nate goes out to be an actual therapy dog, and I think he’ll be a great face for Air Force ROTC.”
According to Swisher, there is no guarantee that a dog who goes through training will be interested in acting as a therapy dog, but Yale Air Force ROTC “would never abandon him.” Nate is usually calm, enjoys meeting new people and is being trained well by the cadets, Swisher added.
Cadet and Yale Air Force ROTC Public Affairs Officer Kaitlin Cardon ’19 said that Nate’s “intelligent and happy” personality has already attracted a steady stream of cadets and visitors, and that he has already brought the Air Force ROTC community on campus closer together. She added that while Nate still has a lot to learn and can still at times cause trouble like any other puppy, he has already made a mark on the community.
“While he is bringing the AFROTC community together, we are excited to have him make a positive impact on the outside community as well,” Cardon said. “The Yale AFROTC detachment is relatively new and small, as it was only re-established a few years ago, so the massive positive attention Nate has brought to us has been great and helpful in raising campus awareness about the many opportunities and strides the AFROTC detachment has been taking and creating.”